Sunday, January 6, 2008

Aid for battered Muslim women

Battering is a problem that cuts across all socio-economic and cultural lines, but the problem seems particularly acute for Muslim women, for whom beatings—and challenging the batterer’s right to strike—take on a religious tinge. As the NY Times reports, intolerance of the Muslim headscarf can reduce battered Muslim women’s options for help from non-Muslims, and shelters catering to Muslim women, such as the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services (photo at right by Peter Wynn Thompson for The New York Times) in suburban Chicago, are clearly too few and far between: Hamdard receives calls from women as far away as Wisconsin, Kentucky and Louisiana and, with only 11 beds, it had to deny shelter to some 647 women and children in 2007. Since challenging battering can be perceived as challenging religious tenets and/or because of a desire to deny that the problem exists, even fairly large and wealthy Muslim communities, such as the one in San Francisco, are unable to raise funds to establish shelters. But challenging the interpretation of the Koran that, according to some, gives men the right to batter “disobedient” women is just what some Muslim women and men are doing. Attorney and Indiana University graduate student Rafia Zakaria is setting up a legal defense fund for Muslim women, while family lawyer Samira Ansari of San Jose, CA, provides them legal services. Imam Muhammad Magid, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America and operator of 7 mosques in Virginia requires pre-marriage counseling, in which he discusses domestic abuse. Maha B. Alkhateeb, co-director of the Peaceful Families Project, has co-edited Change from Within, a book about domestic violence and is promoting a reinterpretation of the problematic “obedience” verse in the Koran—obedience to God, not to one’s husband.


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

The Qur'anic verse you refer to is 4.34 and the word in question is *idribuhunna*, which, as Asma Barlas has pointed out in a recent essay in the ISIM Review (Autumn 2007) (, has been rendered by most scholars to mean a husband is entitled to "beat" (or 'hit') his wife. She notes, however, that "the root of this word, daraba, has several different meanings—including 'to go away'—and the Quran itself uses this word in seventeen different senses. So, the fact most interpreters have chosen one meaning, and the worst, and that most Muslims refuse to accept alternative interpretations as legitimate has less to do with language than with the sexual politics of patriarchies that want to maintain male power over women."

Poonam Sharma said...

That is a very strange thing I got to know. Koran does say that it is ok for men to batter their wives? Is that true?